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The Secret Daughter by Shilipi Somaya Gowda


Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

The success of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda may well be the result of marketing in the same way that it was for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. And – if you liked that book you will like this one. There is nothing not to like – it is not an exceptional novel in any way – but it is a good read. The publisher and the chain bookshops have been aggressively promoting this book and it has ended up on the bestseller lists. I doubt that would have happened otherwise, but you can decide.

We begin in India in 1984, a young family, living in poverty. A child is born, a girl, of no use, she is placed in an orphanage - the mother, Kavita, mourns. In the United States another woman, Somer, desperately wants a child. Somer’s husband, Kris, originally from India, suggests adoption of an Indian baby. Together they travel to India and adopt, Asha, the baby given up by Kavita, and return home to San Francisco.

Five years later we find that the Indian family now has a son, and Somer and Kris and Asha are living the American dream. Or are they? Somer, professional and mother, has it all but she feels that she has nothing, that she is “falling short everywhere.” Somehow the American dream seems hollow. Kris and Somer are both doctors, Kris achieving great things in a specialty, but Somer feeling less fulfilled in the clinic position she has taken in order to be a mother to Asha.

The story goes back and forth between Somer’s life with her family in United States and Kavita’s life in India. There is a vast difference in lifestyle, even as Kavita and her husband move out of the village, and then out of the slums, they will never know the comfort that Asha lives with in the United States.

Eight years later we see Asha, a well adjusted and loved child, and later a teenager with all of the difficulties that are typical for the age, with some a little aggravated by being the dark skinned daughter of a white woman. Later Asha is at a prestigious college, winning a journalism scholarship that will take her to India to make a documentary about life in the slums. She will stay with her grandmother and will get to know her Indian cousins. For the first time in her life she looks like everyone else.

The year in India was, I thought, the most interesting part of the novel, is certainly a revelation for Asha. She sees the love her father’s family has for her, but she has questions about who her biological parents are and finds some of the answers she is seeking. She also comes to understand some of Somer’s behavior, and her own.

Back in the United States Somer and Kris are experiencing a year of adjustment to Asha’s absence. Somer is forced to find ways of gaining back her self-esteem and confidence as a woman, to see herself as more than just a wife and mother.

In the end this is very much a novel about motherhood and how women change when they become mothers – and how they must find a way to hold on to the person they are, separate from their role as a mother.

It is also a book about adoption and the concerns and consequences for all involved, the birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child growing into an adult, who is at the centre of it all. Asha’s father tells her “at some point the family you create is more important that the one you were born into.” Asha can find her way to this only after the long journey to her birth place.

This is a good first novel that will pass a day on a plane or the beach quite satisfactorily but I doubt that it will find a place on the bestseller list a year – or twenty - from now.

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